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How the new arena brought UConn's hockey programs closer together

The Huskies could also be making one of their last trips to Matthews Arena on Friday.

Photo: Ian Bethune

In its first full season as the home of UConn hockey, the Toscano Family Ice Forum witnessed history being made.

The women’s hockey team won the first Hockey East regular season championship in program history and could even be the site of their first Hockey East tournament title if they keep winning.

Not only has the new facility given the players all the resources they need, it’s allowed the two programs to grow closer compared to when they were in Freitas Ice Forum.

“One of the best things about Toscano is that we have a lot more interaction with the women's team,” UConn men’s hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “When we were in Freitas, it used to be like a cattle call. Kids came in for practice and they left but nobody hung around the rink. Now we share a weight room and we share a training room. Kids hang around the rink. I've got to know so many of the women's players.”

“I'm so excited — especially for those seniors like Cam Wong and Ainsley [Svetek] who stayed five years,” he added later. “It’s such a great accomplishment for them and I’ll be rooting for them.”

Oftentimes during the campaign, when the women’s hockey team is home, the men’s hockey team is away which makes it difficult for either side to watch games in person. But Saturday is set to be a double-header at Toscano with UConn women’s hockey facing Holy Cross in the Hockey East quarterfinals at 1 p.m. followed by UConn men’s hockey’s senior day vs. Northeastern at 5 p.m.

Cavanaugh will be at both.

“It'll be fun on Saturday being able to stick around and watch their game,” he said.

A final trip to Matthews Arena?

When UConn travels up to Boston on Friday, it could be one of the final times the team plays at historic Matthews Arena. Northeastern’s home has been the subject of speculation about its future recently because of structural concerns. The school has closed multiple sections and added additional support beans out of an abundance of caution due to the integrity of one of the building’s walls.

The arena claims to be the oldest arena to host ice hockey since it first opened in 1909, though the current building went up in 1921 after a fire that undercuts those claims. Regardless, it’s plenty historic: Matthews — also known as Boston Arena — served as the original home for the Boston Bruins, Hartford Whalers, and Boston Celtics as well as the Beanpot Tournament. It’s where Northeastern men’s hockey has played since 1930.

Even Cavanaugh has some history there.

“I played games there myself when I was back in high school,” he said. “We won a state tournament game in that building.”

The arena may be reaching the end of its usable life, though. Renovations to make it structurally sound — on top of turning it into a top-class facility to allow Northeastern to keep pace with its Hockey East counterparts — would likely be cost-prohibitive. The school may ultimately decide it makes more sense to spend that money on a new building. Since real estate is hard to come by in Boston, tearing Matthews Arena down and rebuilding on its footprint would be the most logical choice.

Cavanaugh hopes it doesn’t ultimately come to that.

“It would be sad to see it go because it has so much history and, as I said, it has personal history for me as well,” he said.

Nothing concrete has been decided about Matthews Arena’s future; most of the conversation around it is little more than speculation and rumors. But UConn knows it’ll get at least one more trip there on Friday night. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Fighting in the future?

Last week, a contest between Arizona State and Alaska-Fairbanks went viral when two players left the penalty box to fight. The Sun Devils’ Tucker Ness and the Nanooks’ Dawson Bruneski were each suspended by their respective teams for the remainder of the season.

Still, the incident sparked a question: Should fighting be allowed in college hockey? Cavanaugh doesn’t believe so.

“It's never going to happen in college hockey, so I'm not sure it's worth really talking about it,” he said. “There's a place for it in the pro game and I understand why it's in the pro game. If you've seen the pro game, there's not nearly as many fights as there used to be and when it happens, there's a reason why it's happening. They kind of police themselves a little bit. But it's never gonna happen in college hockey.”